Kentucky basketball NBA draft streak likely to continue. Latest projections for UK players (2024)

LEXINGTON — Even with John Calipari moving on, a pair of streaks dating back to his first season as Kentucky's coach in 2009-10 will continue at least one more year.

The Wildcats have had at least one player selected in the first round of every NBA draft dating to 2010. And UK has had at least two players picked in every draft beginning with the 2010 event.

Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham, the freshman guard duo who provided instant offense for Kentucky off the bench last season, are widely expected to be lottery picks.

Where the other former Wildcats in this year's draft pool — guards Justin Edwards and Antonio Reeves along with forward Tre Mitchell — might land is unsettled. Edwards and Reeves might hear their names called. They might not. And Mitchell is expected to go undrafted unless a team takes a late flier on him before the second round concludes.

One difference from previous drafts: The NBA decided to expand the two-round event to a two-day affair. The league traditionally had conducted both rounds on the same night. Instead, the 2024 NBA Draft will hold the first round June 26 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The second round will take place June 27 at ESPN’s Seaport District Studios in New York City.

Here's a look at where each of the five former Kentucky players vying to find a place for themselves in the NBA are projected to go, per the latest mock drafts from a number of national outlets:

Reed Sheppard: Near-lock to be top-10 pick. And maybe even higher.

Kentucky basketball NBA draft streak likely to continue. Latest projections for UK players (1)

After a phenomenal freshman campaign, Sheppard, a UK legacy and in-state star from London, shouldn't have to wait long to hear his name called in this year's draft. In the most recent mock drafts from nine national outlets —USA TODAY, ESPN, The Athletic, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, Yahoo Sports, The Ringer, SB Nation and Bleacher Report —Sheppard is projected to go no lower than sixth overall to the Charlotte Hornets (predicted by Fox Sports' Jason McIntyre) and as high as second to the Washington Wizards (where he's slotted by CBS Sports' Gary Parrish).

The most popular projection for Sheppard is the third overall selection, which is owned by the Houston Rockets. That's the pick, and team, forecast for Sheppard by USA TODAY, ESPN, The Athletic, SB Nation, Bleacher Report and CBS Sports' Kyle Boone.

The biggest question mark: whether Houston actually will keep the pick.

The mock drafts penned by Jonathan Givony (of ESPN) and Sam Vecenie (of The Athletic) both pointed out the league-wide perception that the Rockets will entertain trading the pick, whether it's to move down in the draft to accumulate additional picks or using it as the centerpiece to bring in a star player to complement the wealth of youthful talent (Tari Eason, Jalen Green, Alperen Şengün, Jabari Smith Jr., Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore, all of whom are 23 or younger) already on the roster.

Wherever Sheppard goes, he'll bring elite shooting, instinctual playmaking and defensive savvy.

He left UK asthe program's all-time leader in 3-point percentage, converting 52.1% (75 for 144) of his attempts during the 2023-24 season. Sheppard also recorded 82 steals,the second most in a season in Kentucky's illustrious history, six short of Rajon Rondo's mark. He also dished out a team-high 4.5 assists per game and notched 23 blocks.

"Sheppard's combination of shot creation, passing and sneaky athleticism makes him an intriguing prospect in the top half of the lottery," wrote Krysten Peek of Yahoo Sports. "He plays the right way and his game translates well to the NBA with how productive he can be with or without the ball on offense."

Rob Dillingham: Another likely lottery selection

Kentucky basketball NBA draft streak likely to continue. Latest projections for UK players (2)

Unlike Sheppard, whose projected draft slot has remained fairly steady between Nos. 3 and 6, there is far more fluctuation with Dillingham, an electric — if undersized — scoring machine. A handful of mock drafts have Dillingham going ahead of Sheppard. Cameron Salerno of CBS Sports even speculated Dillingham will go to the Wizards with the second overall pick. At the other end of the spectrum, The Ringer has him falling out of the lottery entirely, coming off the board with the 15th pick, held by the Miami Heat.

Dillingham never will be able to outrun his size: He measured 6-foot-1, on the dot, at the NBA draft combine. And he tipped the scales at just 164.2 pounds — the lightest player among those who attended the combine.

His stature never slowed him down with the Wildcats, though, as he averaged 15.2 points per game off the bench last season. Givony named him the top ball handler in the 2024 draft class.

"Dillingham's jittery handle, burst and explosive change of gear makes it difficult for opponents to stay in front of him," Givony wrote. "He has a wide array of elusive moves at his disposal, including herky-jerky crossovers, double crossovers, in-and-out dribbles, behind-the-back dribbles and more, which he combines with sharp changes of speed, accelerating from slow to fast with either hand to take the paint and finish with touch around the rim."

Given the space-and-pace nature of the current NBA, Givony said Dillingham should be even more dangerous offensively at the pro level than he was at Kentucky.

Justin Edwards: Draft place uncertain for former five-star signee

Kentucky basketball NBA draft streak likely to continue. Latest projections for UK players (3)

Entering the 2023-24 season, Edwards was touted as potentially the top pick in the next NBA draft.

Now, it's anyone's guess where he'll go in the draft. If he's even picked at all.

ESPN and CBS Sports have him as a late first-round selection. The Athletic, Yahoo Sports, The Ringer and Bleacher Report predict he'll be a second-rounder. USA TODAY, Fox Sports and Bleacher Report, which only released its projections for the 30 picks in the first round, didn't include Edwards' name among them.

But Edwards — the Philadelphia native started 31 of the 32 games he played in last season, averaging 8.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per outing — has his supporters.

"Edwards did not have the season many expected at Kentucky," Givony wrote, "but he's still worthy of consideration. ... Standing 6-7 with some perimeter shooting acumen and upside to grow into after one season in college, Edwards ranksNo. 28 in ESPN's Top 100."

Antonio Reeves: Senior scoring leader a second-round candidate?

Kentucky basketball NBA draft streak likely to continue. Latest projections for UK players (4)

Reeves ended his college career with a bang. Not only did he lead UK in points per game in 2023-24 but his average (20.2) also was the highest by any player in any season of Calipari's tenure in Lexington. Reeves' average was the best by a Wildcat since Jodie Meeks poured in 23.7 points per night during the 2008-09 season.

Reeves doesn't appear in the first round of any mock draft conducted by a national publication. But ESPN, The Athletic and Bleacher Report all have him squeezing into the second round.

"He's clearly one of the class' top shotmakers," wrote Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman, "who also has a good feel for how to get himself those catch-and-shoot, pull-up and floater chances within an offense's flow."

Tre Mitchell: Undrafted free-agent deal in the future for veteran forward?

Kentucky basketball NBA draft streak likely to continue. Latest projections for UK players (5)

Much like last year with Jacob Toppin, another former forward who transferred into Kentucky, Mitchell doesn't appear in any two-round mock draft. Anywhere. The 2023 mock drafts proved prophetic, as Toppin went undrafted. But shortly after the event concluded, he signed a two-way contract with the New York Knicks.

Toppin went on to appear in nine games with the Knicks in 2023-24 and also played in 24 contests for the Westchester Knicks of the NBA G League.

Mitchell hopes he can approximate — or possibly surpass — Toppin's post-Kentucky efforts.

ESPN ranks Mitchell 82nd on its list of top 100 prospects in the 2024 draft class.

Joining UK as a transfer from West Virginia prior to last season, Mitchell went on to play in 27 games (24 starts) in 2023-24, averaging a team-high 7.2 rebounds to go along with 10.7 points and 2.6 assists in 30.2 minutes per contest.

Reach Kentucky men’s basketball and football reporter Ryan Black at rblack@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter at @RyanABlack.

Kentucky basketball NBA draft streak likely to continue. Latest projections for UK players (2024)
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